When I moved out at 18 years old, money wasn't a problem for my boyfriend and me… at least not until our early 20s when he was laid off from work.
As young parents, both working part-time jobs to get by, we learned the hard way how to stretch a dollar. I often found myself considering dumpster diving, which I’d tried as a high schooler testing out the “freegan” way of life, but I could never muster up the courage to do so.
Instead, I taught myself how to save money like a freegan without actually dumpster diving.
I first heard the word freegan, which comes from the words “free” and “vegan,” back in high school during my “anarchist punk” days. I surrounded myself with individuals who wanted to make the world a better place and one of the ways we learned we could do that was through dumpster diving.
The idea of eating food that's been thrown out can be a little unsettling to most people. The truth is, a lot of people, restaurants and stores throw out food that’s perfectly safe to eat.
But the freegan lifestyle goes beyond dumpster diving.
Freegans do their best to boycott products from unethical corporations they believe are responsible for destroying the environment, violating human rights and abusing animals.
With a young family, I wanted to make the most of every dollar, but I wasn’t quite willing to return to my old habit.
Here’s how these freegan strategies helped us save money on everything from groceries, to clothing, to household items.
Our small family of three used to spend nearly $200 a week on groceries. Since we started getting creative to make our food last longer, we now spend an average of $60 a week.
Freegans save big money on their weekly grocery bills. Every day, grocery stores and restaurants throw out tons of food they consider unsellable. After the stores have closed, freegans go out back to their dumpsters to collect any food that’s still edible.
But if dumpster diving isn’t for you, you can still get your hands on this “expired” food that’s actually still good.
Look for a salvage grocery store in your area that sells past-date items that are still good. You can always ask the store manager if you can have it for free, or at a lower price. If it feels silly, claim it’s for your pet rabbit!
Like a freegan, I learned to stop following expiry dates and how to freshen up my food whenever it starts to look a little sad.
Fruits and vegetables are the easiest items on your grocery list to turn into savings.
Learn how to store your fruits and vegetables to keep them fresh. You can bring limp celery, lettuce, peppers and other vegetables back to life by simply adding them to a bowl of fresh water. Make bruised fruit into juice, smoothies, jams or pie filling.
Although most dairy and meat products can be dangerous to consume after they’ve expired, they'll last a lot longer in the freezer.
Also, don't forget to test your eggs after they've apparently expired. By placing them in a bowl of cold water to see if they float or sink, you will be able to tell if they're safe to eat. If an egg sinks, it's still good, but if it floats to the top, it’s gone bad.
Finally, I regularly rotate the food in our fridge, bringing items that are closer to their expiration dates towards the front where they’re more likely to be selected.
We only spend about $100 on clothes for the entire family each season, instead of hundreds (plural) of dollars.
When I was a teenager I mainly dumpster dived to find things like clothes. I was a whiz on a sewing machine and often turned unwanted articles of clothing into something I enjoyed wearing regularly.
A lot of people throw away their clothes once they’ve been stained, ripped or even gone out of style. To save money by thinking like a freegan, consider learning how to fix your clothes, or at least how to upcycle your unwanted threads.
When I have clothes I no longer enjoy, but that are still in good condition, my friends and I will do a clothing swap or we’ll donate them to charity.
Having a yard sale is also an excellent way to turn your unwanted clothes and items into cash.
After my daughter outgrew her baby things, I decided to sell them. I got $40 for her high chair and $50 for her baby swing.
Just by selling her old clothes, toys and gear, along with some old books and DVDs, I brought in nearly $400 for my family.
Unwanted furniture often ends up on the side of the road come garbage collection days. Freegans regularly take advantage of these days to find new items for their homes.
If you find yourself feeling too embarrassed to grab an item and go, there are other ways to save money on furniture and electronics, and sometimes even ways to make money.
Instead of ditching your own furniture on the curb, why not consider fixing it up for yourself or selling it? Many freegans use freecycle.org, Kijiji and Craiglist. Kijiji and Craigslist both have free sections, and Freecycle is entirely free.
In the last year, my husband and I have completely redone our living room for less than $200, including a new couch, TV stand, coffee table, end table, two chairs, record stand and decor.
All of that was still cheaper than a new couch on its own, thanks to our openness to learn how to save money the freegan way.
Freegans are masters of finding ways to not only save money, but also ways to make money. There's a lot to learn by living this way of life.
Your Turn: Are you a freegan? Will you dumpster dive, or do you prefer less extreme strategies? Share your tips in the comments.
Cole Nemeth is a writer, artist and amateur photographer. She has written multiple blog posts and articles for a variety of publications, including her own site, Peace and Chaos. Cole loves spending time with her husband and daughter, and their two pets.